NAACP forum creates first rift among GOP candidates

Friday, October 03, 2003

By The Leader-Chicago Bureau (chicago@illinoisleader.com)

State Senator Steve Rauschenberger, who recently was invited as the sixth candidate in the NAACP's televised debate, called for all Republican candidates to boycott unless all GOP candidates were invited to participate.
 
Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria called for the NAACP to open Saturday night's debate to all Republican U.S. Senate candidates candidates.
 
Jack Ryan told reporters he will not boycott Saturday's debate.
CHICAGO -- State Senator Steve Rauschenberger threatened today to boycott the upcoming NAACP/Fox News candidate forum. Rauschenberger said if the forum is not opened to all nine declared Republican U.S. Senate candidates, he will not be participating. He also challenged the five other invited GOP candidates to join him in the protest.

NAACP spokesman Jason Robbins said today that the debate format will remain as planned, with Republicans Jack Ryan, James Oberweis, John Borling, John Cox, Andrew McKenna and Steven Rauschenberger participating. Robbins said that they have no intention of opening the format to all Republicans.

?If that?s what their position is, then Senator Rauschenberger will be doing something else Saturday night, like maybe watching the Cubs,? Rauschenberger?s spokesman Charlie Stone said this afternoon.

?I really appreciate all the support I?ve received from Senator Rauschenberger on this,? GOP candidate Chirinjeev Kathuria said today. Kathuria, an Indian-American, is one of the Republicans being left out of the forum.

Kathuria tallied one percent of those polled in a recent Fox News-authorized poll determining who would be invited to participate in the Saturday night forum. He placed last in a field of nine candidates. Downstater Jonathan Wright and African-American Antonio Davis-Fairman are the other two GOP candidates who did not make the cut for an invitation.

?The point is that the NAACP should not use arbitrary polling to determine who is a viable candidate this early in the race,? Rauschenberger, a state senator from Kane County, said. ?It is not fair to candidates like Dr. Kathuria who have worked so hard for the past three months. It is way too early to determine first- and second-tier candidates.?

Ironically, it appears that the first public squabble among Republican candidates for U.S. Senate may be over a forum held by the NAACP, a group that typically endorses Democrats.

Rauschenberger?s comments stirred debate today among the candidates who will participate in the forum.

According to at least two different sources, an effort on behalf of the Oberweis campaign to set up a press conference in reaction against the NAACP boycott was declined by the campaigns.

?Jim Oberweis supports the original rules set up by the NAACP,? campaign spokesman Jeff Metzger said today. ?We will stick by those rules, and the forum is on his schedule for Saturday night.?

John Cox suggested that Rauschenberger was using the situation as an opportunity for publicity.

"Steve Rauschenberger should knock off the theatrics and let his record become part of the debate Saturday night," candidate John Cox, one of the NAACP-invited candidates, replied today.

Cox suggested that Rauschenberger's real motive is to camouflage his voting record. "Trying to hide from the debates under the cover of the NAACP failing to invite a couple of fringe candidates to a debate is laughable.?

The highest polling candidate in the Fox News poll, Jack Ryan, had planned a press conference to unveil a Chicago media buy for ads that have been running downstate. Ryan?s press announcement was hijacked by questions about his position on the Rauschenberger/Kathuria press conference and whether or not he will join the NAACP boycott.

?Our campaign will be about the big tent,? Ryan said. ?We are going to talk about how to make lives better for the least fortunate, the poorest of the poor, middle-class Americans - all Americans. Our campaign is already crossing demographic lines, economic lines and party lines. We?re doing a pretty good job of putting up a big tent. It?s up to the NAACP to determine what rules they will abide by. We will keep our promise and be there Saturday night.?

While the NAACP is normally associated with voters who pull Democratic ballots in primaries, several of the Republican candidates have made significant efforts to reach out to the African-American community. Conservative black activist Elroy Leach is helping Jack Ryan?s campaign, Glenn Harris has signed on with Chirinjeev Kathuria and Derrick Moseley is advocating John Cox in Chicago?s south side.

The NAACP/Fox News Chicago's forum will be televised from 7:00 to 9:00 PM CDT on UPN in Chicago.

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